After Roe: What Happens to Abortion in California?

PUBLISHED JUN 24, 2022 12:00 A.M.
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Protesters gathered at the California Capitol rally against abortion measures before the Legislature on June 22, 2022.

Protesters gathered at the California Capitol rally against abortion measures before the Legislature on June 22, 2022.   Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters


Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned the Roe decision, here are key takeaways of what to expect for abortion in California. They include the politics, more legislation, a possible influx of out-of-state patients and changes for health care providers.

The constitutional right to abortion in the United States is no more. Today the U.S. Supreme Court struck down its landmark Roe v. Wade precedent in a 5-4 decision, ending nearly 50 years of guaranteed abortion access for American women.

The historic ruling has been expected since early May, when a draft of the opinion was leaked, and was widely anticipated long before that as conservative justices tilted the court. The fight over abortion rights now returns to the states, where it played out five decades ago, with the procedure immediately set to become nearly or entirely illegal in almost half of them and several more bans likely to follow.

California is moving in the opposite direction, ramping up legal protections for abortion providers and pouring resources into expanding access as clinics prepare for a possible surge of patients traveling from other states to terminate their pregnancies.

Here is how the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization will play out in California:

Abortion will be a major focus of November election

Expect to hear a lot about abortion rights in the months ahead, as candidates tout their endorsements from Planned Parenthood and flood the airwaves with advertisements warning of the bleak future for access if their opponents win.

Since the draft ruling leaked last month, Democrats in California and across the country have latched onto protecting abortion rights as a key issue for the 2022 midterm elections. With decades of public polling showing that a majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, it has put the party back on the offensive as it faces mounting voter dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden and withering Republican attacks over inflation and crime.

“I hope that people are enraged,” said state Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat who ran a women’s health clinic before entering politics. 

“While we feel like we have better protections here and California is different, I hope they’re enraged and they understand what’s at stake,” she told CalMatters.

A poll conducted last month by Monmouth University found that abortion was nearly tied with economic policy as the top concern for voters nationwide, a considerable increase from four years ago driven by its rising importance among Democrats. Another recent survey from UC San Diego asked Californians whether they planned to vote in November, before and after reading an article about the possibility of a national abortion ban if the Roe decision is overturned; researchers determined it had a significant mobilizing effect on independent voters.

The potential for Republicans to pursue a national abortion ban should they win back control of Congress is likely to feature prominently in a number of battleground House races across the state. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta have already made abortion rights central to their re-election campaigns, and even some candidates with less of a direct connection to ensuring abortion access, including Democratic state controller hopeful Malia Cohen, have tried to raise alarms about the beliefs of their GOP opponents.

Abortion rights will also literally be on the ballot in California in November. Democratic legislators in Sacramento are rushing to qualify a measure that, if approved by voters, would enshrine “reproductive freedom” in the state Constitution.

Though California already protects abortion access through a constitutional right to privacy, Atkins, who is shepherding the amendment through the Legislature, said a more explicit guarantee is important as legal battles over the future of reproductive rights continue.

“That is my biggest fear. You find one judge somewhere in California who rules and our whole right to privacy as it currently exists in California is in question,” Atkins said, though she acknowledged there were additional political benefits: “I sure as hell hope that it’s going to drive turnout.”

Read more of After Roe: What Happens to Abortion in California? on CalMatters. is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

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